Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lock and print

More from letterpress class:

On Wednesday, we met at the studio for an extra class session so that we could lock up. (Setting the rest of the type took more time than we expected, including the colophon's list of six names centered.)

On a flat-bed press, lock up means placing the blocks of type where they need to go on the printer bed, adding furniture (pieces of wood) and riglets (smaller pieces of wood) and slugs (lead, but not bullets) in all the spaces in between. Then you add quoins that you expand by turning a key. The coins squeeze everything together so that nothing will wriggle under pressure.

The press was in one room, and most of the furniture was in another room. I felt like a contestant on the TV show "Survivor": Looking at the puzzle to see what piece was needed, hurrying into the next room to find the piece, bringing it back only to realize that it wasn't quite right—and so on.

Eventually, we got everything in place (for the time being—it seems that in printing, as sometimes in poetry, nothing is ever really done). Then we sprayed sheets of paper with water so that we could print on dampened paper the next night.

On Thursday, we returned to print. After much more measuring to get the paper placed correctly, we discovered that our ink was stubborn (or sleepy or cold or—I don't know) and didn't want to stick to the rollers or the blocks. We were printing in three colors plus black, which meant that for ever print, four people were rolling ink on to the type and the linocuts and the woodblock. (I was in charge of rolling gray onto the lighthouse). That's a lot of action.

We added some burnt plate oil to the ink and eventually got it to behave somewhat. And then we began to print: the paper placed in the frame, the frisket lowered, ink rolled on, frame lowered to the bed, the bed rolled in, the handle pulled and held for a count of three, the bed rolled out, the frame raised ever so gently, the print removed, and again and again and again.

Next week, one team will cut and fold the prints into the buttonhole books, and the other team will redistribute (put away) all the type.

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